A group sales director shares secrets for getting what you want

It’s 8:30 a.m., and conference attendees are enjoying breakfast in airy prefunction space outside a ballroom. In the basement of that same hotel, a sales manager sips her coffee anxiously, waiting to begin the Daily Business Review. In her world, it’s known as the DBR. She is going to be met head-on by the revenue manager, the food and beverage director, and possibly even her colleagues in group sales. Yesterday, she spent two frustrating hours trying to learn all about this potential group’s history, overall spend, possible date flexibility and decision factors—all matters she will be asked about at the DBR. But she would come up empty. Waiting is not an option. All responses are due by 5 p.m. that day—so she’ll be forced to fight for an RFP about which she has very little information—but which could be very important to her goal, which is 20 percent higher than the previous year.

MoreHow to Build a Successful, Standout RFP

The specifics may vary across the country, but this a very real scenario for most hotel sales professionals. All group sales managers build up a finite amount of political capital at their properties, and when fighting for group room nights during a DBR, they must decide how and where to spend it. To complicate matters further, some properties judge a sales manager’s performance by conversion percentage—how many answered RFPs result in business won.

In North America, the reality is that the inventory of full-service hotels capable of hosting meetings is not growing fast enough, forcing planners to reach out to more cities, and more hotels, in initial searches. They are increasingly challenged to find availability on preferred dates and face other constraints when sourcing meetings.

What This Means for Group Sales and Planners

For hotels, sales managers have higher goals, but less inventory to sell; they are getting more leads but less information from busy planners through the RFP process. Planners are receiving fewer quality responses from hotels.

Not surprisingly, hotel group sales managers are prioritizing leads with the highest percentage chance to close. Which begs the question: Are some planner inquiries better than others? HB Hospitality, a private community of luxury resorts, hotels and experienced meeting planners, polled over 120 hotels and resorts and 700 hoteliers in its community of properties, asking the average conversion percentage on the most common lead sources of new business.

This is what it found.

  • Cvent—5 percent
  • Hotel national sales office—7 percent
  • Direct email or web inquiry—26 percent
  • Direct phone call—29 percent

Many sales managers polled admitted to prioritizing the completion of a response over its quality on at least one occasion in the last month. It’s not easy for planners to identify when this is the case, forcing them to follow up with additional questions, or to make a venue recommendation with insufficient and incomplete information.

Tips for How Both Hotels and Planners Can ‘Win’

The best place to start is through more direct communication and conversation. Despite the misconception that the hotel sales team “sells the dream,” most hotel sales professionals entered the industry because of their desire to work in hospitality, not in sales. Our goal is not just to book room nights: It’s to book the best room nights for our property to give our clients the best experience.

If we are given the opportunity to serve as partners through the process—rather than the relationship being simply transactional or through an internet platform—the likelihood for success of the event increases significantly. Direct communication also lets the sales manager and planner determine very quickly if a program is the right fit. And if not, a sales manager can avoid facing business review for an event that will never book, and a planner can resubmit a more realistic proposal.

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Here are the top suggestions for improving the quality and speed of responses, based on input from our polling group of hotels and hoteliers.

Explain the goal of the event and the priority of the client whenever possible.

Provide as much history as possible, including historic and projected F&B, and activity spend. This will greatly assist in the business review process.

Be open to a quick phone call. It almost always saves more time than a series of emails sent for clarification.

All hotel sales managers understand that our jobs wouldn’t exist without planners. When we gather with our peers, we don’t brag about ADR or how we “won” a contract negotiation. Success for us is playing a part in helping groups execute a memorable event that will stand out for their clients and attendees.

It’s been said that “in a good negotiation, both sides feel like they lost.” In our industry, we will all be better off if our mantra becomes, “Through one meaningful conversation, everyone will win.”

Spencer Hux is director of group sales at Pinehurst in North Carolina. He has worked in hotel group sales since 2006.